Red lily, p.29
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       Red Lily, p.29
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         Part #3 of In the Garden series by Nora Roberts
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  Why risk it?

  He moved to another area, skimmed his light.

  Nearly another hour passed in the murk, in the wet. He’d have to finish for the day, he decided. Get his tanks refilled and continue tomorrow. Customers would be coming in soon, and nothing put off retail like hearing that some guy was looking for human remains.

  He trailed his light through the roots of his water lilies, thought fleetingly that he might try to hybridize a red one. Something that really snapped. He studied the roots, pleased with the health and progress of what he’d begun, and decided to surface.

  His light caught something below, and slightly south. He checked his watch, noted he was approaching borrowed time, but he kicked, dived, scanned.

  And he saw her, what was left of her. Bones, filthy with mud, tangled with growth. Weighed down, he saw, with a stirring of pity, by bricks and stones, tied to those bones, hands, legs, waist by the rope he imagined she’d hanged herself with.

  The rope she’d meant to use on her son.

  Still, shouldn’t she have surfaced at some point? Why hadn’t the rope rotted, those weights shifted? It was basic physics, wasn’t it?

  But basic physics didn’t take ghosts and curses into account.

  He paddled a hand in the water, moving closer to her.

  The blow knocked him back, sent him somersaulting and ripped the light from his hand.

  He was in the dark, with the dead, and running out of air.

  He fought not to panic, to let his body go loose and limp so that he would drop to the bottom, and be able to spring off to the surface.

  But another wave bowled him over.

  He saw her, gliding through the water, her white gown billowing, her hair floating out in tangled ropes. Her eyes were wide with lunacy, her hand reaching out, curled like claws.

  He felt them close around his neck, squeeze, though he could see her still, feet away, suspended in the water over her own bones.

  He struck out, but there was nothing to fight. He clawed toward the surface, but she held him down as inevitably as the bricks and stones that had carried her to the bottom.

  She was killing him, as she’d planned to kill her own child. Maybe that had been the plan all along, he thought dimly. To take a Harper with her.

  He thought of Hayley, waiting for him on the surface, of the child she carried. Of the daughter she’d already given him.

  He wouldn’t give them up.

  He looked back down at the bones, tried to find a glimmer of that pity. And he looked at Amelia, eternally mad.

  I remember you. He thought it with all his will. Singing to me. I knew you’d never hurt me. Remember me. The child that came from your child.

  He groped for his diving knife, sliced his palm with the blade. As she had once sliced hers in madness. His blood dripped and clouded in the murky water between them, and drifted down toward the filthy bones.

  That’s your blood in me. Connor blood as much as Harper. Amelia to James, James to Robert, Robert to Rosalind, and Rosalind to me. That’s why I found you. Let me go. Let me take you home. You don’t have to be alone or lost anymore.

  When the pressure on his throat released, he fought the urge to kick straight for the surface. He could still see her, and wondered how it was he could see tears flow down her cheeks.

  I’ll come back for you. I swear it.

  He pushed up, and he thought he heard her singing, the light, sweet voice of his childhood. When he looked back, he saw the beam of his light spear out from the bottom, arrow to her so she was illuminated in its shaft.

  And watched her fade away like a dream.

  Breaking the surface, he ripped his mouthpiece away, sucked in air that burned his scored throat. Sunlight sparkled in his eyes, dazzling them, and through the roaring in his ears there were voices calling his name.

  Through the dazzle, he found Hayley standing on the verge, a hand pressed to her belly. On the wrist of that hand, ruby hearts glittered like hope.

  He swam through the lilies toward her, swam away from death toward life. Logan and Mitch helped pull him out of the water where he lay on his back, drawing in air, looking into Hayley’s eyes.

  “I found her.”

  epilogue

  THE SUN FILTERED through the leaves of sycamores and oaks and cast pretty patterns of light and shadows on the green of the grass. On the branches birds sang, filling the balmy air with music.

  Gravestones stood, marble white, granite gray, carved to mark the dead. On some, flowers lay, petals fading, petals fluttering in the light breeze. Tributes to those who’d passed before.

  Harper stood between his mother and Hayley, holding their hands as the casket was lowered.

  “I don’t feel sad,” Hayley declared. “Not anymore. This feels right. More than right, it feels kind.”

  “She earned the right to be here. Beside her son.” Roz looked at the graves, the names. Reginald and Beatrice, Reginald and Elizabeth.

  And there, her parents. Their aunts and uncles, cousins, all links in the long chain of Harpers. “In the spring,” she said, “we’ll put a marker for her. Amelia Ellen Connor.”

  “You already have, in a way.” Mitch turned his head to kiss her hair. “Burying her son’s rattle with her, his picture. Hayley’s right. It’s kind.”

  “Without her, I’m not. Without her, Harper, Austin, Mason are not. Nor are the children who come from them. She deserves her place.”

  “Whatever she did, she deserved better than what was done to her.” Stella sighed. “I’m proud I was part of this, of giving her back her name, and I hope, giving her peace.” She smiled at Logan, then over at David and all the others. “We were all part of it.”

  “Tossed in the pond. Discarded.” Logan rubbed a hand over the small of Stella’s back. “All to protect, what? Reputation.”

  “She’s found now,” David added. “You did good, Roz, pushing through the system to have her buried here.”

  “The Harper name still has the weight to shove the bureaucrats. Truth be told I wanted to give her this nearly as much as I wanted her out of my house, away from what and who I love.” She rose up to peck Harper’s cheek. “My boy. My brave boy. She owes you most of all.”

  “I don’t think so,” he disagreed.

  “You went back.” Hayley pressed her lips together. “Even after she tried to hurt you, you went back to help bring her out.”

  “I told her I would. Ashbys keep their word as well as Harpers. I’m both.” He picked up a fist of earth, held it over the grave, let it sift through his fingers. “Now it’s done.”

  “What can we say about Amelia?” Roz lifted a red rose. “She was mad—let’s be honest. She died badly, and didn’t live much better. But she sang to me, and to my children. Her life gave me mine. So rest now, Great-grandmama.” She dropped the rose onto the casket.

  In turn the others sent a rose into the grave, and stepped back. “Let’s give them a minute alone,” Roz said, nodding toward Harper and Hayley.

  “She’s gone.” Hayley closed her eyes, settled her mind. “I can feel it. I knew she was gone before you came up. Knew you’d found her before you told us. It was like the rope tying me to her was cut.”

  “Happiest day of my life. So far.”

  “Whatever she needed, she has.” She stared down at the casket, at the flowers that lay on it. “I was so afraid, when you were in the pond, that you wouldn’t come back to me.”

  “I wasn’t finished with you. Not nearly.” He took her shoulders, turned her away from the grave, toward him, toward the sunlight. “We’ve got a life to live. It’s our time now.”

  He took the ring out of his pocket, slipped it onto her finger. “Fits now. It’s yours now.” He lowered his lips to hers. “Let’s go get married.”

  “I think that’s a great idea.”

  With their hands clasped, they walked away from death, into love, and life.

  In Harper House, the wide halls and gracious rooms were quiet,
full of sun, full of memories. Full of past, open to tomorrow.

  No one sang there.

  But its gardens bloomed.

 
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